Dark Ends: An Interview with Luke Tarzian

by Justine Bergman

Today we’re joined by Luke Tarzian, and we discuss his upcoming novelette The Laughing Heart featured in the Dark Ends anthology, his writing practices, inspirations, and what he would do if faced with a (potentially) harrowing situation.

Be sure to check out my review of Luke’s incredibly ambitious and stunning debut Vultures, the first novel in his Shadow Twins series, and current SPFBO entrant!

About the Author

Fantasy Author. Long Doggo Enthusiast. Snoot Booper. Shouter of Profanities. Drinker of Whiskey. These are all titles. The Khaleesi nobody wanted and the one they certainly didn’t deserve.

WEBSITE: https://luketarzian.com/

Care to tell us who are you in 10 words or less?

I’m Luke. Indie dark fantasy author. Full-time disappointment.

Give us a brief introduction to your Dark Ends story.

The Laughing Heart is a tonal mash-up of Edgar Allan Poe and Castlevania. An examination of how one deals with personal tragedy in the midst of war. The story sees a young Cailean Catil (of Vultures fame) take up arms against the fallen angel Galska Nuul in an effort to release the city of Harbanan from the monster’s hold while gaining vengeance for his husband’s death. But things aren’t what they seem, and Cailean must reconcile with the truth if Harbanan is to survive.

What was the inspiration for your ​Dark Ends​ story? 

Cailean Catil (of Vultures fame) is one of my absolute favorite characters to write. His backstory is seen in glimpses in Vultures, but I really wanted to know what happened the made him the man he is today. The Laughing Heart explores that period in his life. Christ is it…dark.

Did you already have a planned character arc for Cailean when beginning this story, or did you learn his history as you made your way through The Laughing Heart?

Cailean is such an interesting character for me. In earlier iterations of Vultures he was the mouthy semi-comedic relief who bit the bullet at the end of Act 1 (which was very different from what it is now). He didn’t serve much of a purpose beyond that. That was probably 5 drafts ago.

When I rewrote Vultures from scratch I spent A LOT of time really learning who my characters were, reinventing them completely in some cases—Cailean is one example of this. I learned bits and pieces of his story as I wrote Vultures, building off of and molding his pre-existing emotions and mannerisms, but there wasn’t enough room to tell his backstory completely, so I cut a decent chunk in that respect.

Going into The Laughing Heart, I knew a pretty solid amount of his arc, but there were definitely things I learned while writing the story. Cailean is a very different man than the one we meet in Vultures and it was important for me to show this as he becomes a major player in the rest of the Shadow Twins trilogy. The past informs the present, especially in Cailean’s case.

What’s a day of writing like in the shoes of Luke? Do you have any quirks/routines/rituals?

I wake up, cry for about an hour, down a bottle of scotch, and then slap words on a page.

But not really.

A day of writing in my shoes is generally several forty-five-minute sessions just trying to get the story on page. If I’m lucky and have several hours’ worth of time allotted to writing, then I’ll probably make a cup of tea, turn on some relaxing music and a fan (fuck you, Southern California heat), and see where day goes.

What’s the largest issue you face/have faced while writing?

When I started seriously writing second world fantasy shortly out of college, I hadn’t really read a lot of it, if any. My first foray into epic fantasy was Elantris and then pretty much everything else that Brandon Sanderson wrote. I love the guy’s work, it’s some of my favorite, but it handicapped me in a way because I was trying to emulate the whole “Let’s build a sweet magic system,” so a lot of the earlier of iterations of Vultures weren’t as strong as they could have been because I was so obsessed with magic and worldbuilding and didn’t really focus on character as much as I should have.

Nowadays, my largest issue with writing is just finding the time. Working full time, six days a week among other things makes it a challenge to sit down and write. I mostly write in sprints at the moment, and thankfully it’s worked.

What was the hardest scene you’ve ever written? 

That’s a really tough question. I’ve written a lot of scenes that were tough for various reasons, but—and without spoiling anything—there is a death scene toward the end of Vultures that really took a toll on me emotionally. It was a sad scene to begin with, but I knew I wanted it to be something that really hit home, so the character’s slurred speech and failing neurological functions paralleled my mother’s state of being a day or two before she passed away. I’ve always thought of cancer as a giant plague (my mother died of AML) and so that’s what I wrote the scene as. It’s quite sad.

How about the funniest typo you’ve ever written?

Something along the lines of jkgkjgu@&*$^*$(*$$(#######@)NCnnn after falling asleep writing one night. Super boring, I know. I did say I was going to be a disappointment.

Is there one particular book that you hold dearest to your heart? Has it played a part in guiding your writing career? 

I don’t know that there’s any one book that’s guided my writing career, but the books that got me into writing were the Harry Potter series. 

What about the Harry Potter books piqued your interest the most?

From the perspective of a young writer, I would say it was the world and the escapism it allowed for. We all like getting lost in a good book, becoming so emotionally invested that we become wholly immersed in that world, and that’s what the Harry Potter books made me want to write—something to escape into.

If you could shadow one author for a day, who would you choose, and why? 

Historically, Edgar Allan Poe. The man’s got a fantastic way with words and is probably my biggest influence. Presently, Neil Gaiman because he’s just an absolute treasure.

You’re walking down a dimly lit alley, and out of the corner of your eye you see movement in the shadows. What do you do?

Hope it’s a fluffy dog and try not to scream, either in fear, excitement, or some combination of the two.

As a writer, what or who would you choose as your mascot?

A bottle of scotch and a really fluffy dog.

Any recommendations for a good scotch?

I’m going to be extremely biased and say the 27-year old bottle of Balblair sitting on my desk.

Are you currently working on any other projects that you can discuss? 

I’ve always got a couple of things rattling around in the ol’ brain cage. In all seriousness, next on the agenda is Tomb of Memory, the sequel to Vultures. I’ve done about five chapters-worth of experimental writing, but there’s definitely some restructuring that’s going to have to happen. The goal is to have it ready for publication late next summer (I was aiming for a May/June release, but things happen).

Besides the Shadow Twins trilogy, I’ve been more or less brainstorming another couple of stories (hopefully a novel at some point) either following Cailean or set in the location that The Laughing Heart takes in. I’ve grown extremely fond of both. 

Thanks so much for joining us, Luke!

Dark Ends will be available this winter.

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